'Urgent invite': Camden Borough Active Spaces Project

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Epidemiology and Public Health


Physical activity is beneficial for the health of young people. It is recommended that young people engage in physical activity of moderate intensity for at least one hour a day, to maintain good health. However, just 24% of British girls and 32% of boys achieve this recommendation, which has been partly linked to the rise in obesity levels across the UK.

Studies have found that weekday physical activity in school children is lowest when they are at school. Numerous school-based interventions have focused on physical education lessons in an attempt to increase activity levels, but have generally been unsuccessful. Environments both stimulate and provide the arena for physical activity although there is limited research to show if changing the physical environment at school influences activity levels in children.

Camden Borough Council will be re-designing six existing school playgrounds with exciting bespoke features to engage children to become more active. The underlying goal is to encourage motivation by integrating potential for activities that are not motivated by traditional sports or by team competition. This presents a unique opportunity to evaluate the impact of these structures on physical activity, engagement, wellbeing, and academic performance. The building work will be undertaken in the school holidays of this year.

Measuring physical activity in children is challenging and often relies on proxy measures such as parent-report that can be unreliable. In the last decade the measurement of physical activity has been revolutionised with the introduction of small wearable motion sensors that now enables us to assess movement objectively over prolonged periods at low cost.

We propose to randomly select approximately 80 pupils from similar year groups from each of the six schools (total sample size~ 480) and collect objective physical activity data from them, using an accelerometer, at three different time points before and after the intervention (Spring/summer term 2014; Autumn term 2014; summer term 2015). Taking repeated follow up assessments would allow us to examine if short term effects are sustained over a longer period. We will also collect data on the child's mental and physical health (such as body mass index), and markers of academic performance.

Planned Impact

Physical inactivity is estimated to cost the NHS approximately £8 billion per year in health care costs alone. Encouraging physically active lifestyles in children is crucial not only to stem the tide of childhood obesity but also in nurturing a healthy future generation of adults. Current levels of physical activity in children are worryingly low, and the lowest levels are recorded at school. The effects of interventions to increase activity in young people have been at best modest, and conclude that alternative approaches are required. This project aims to examine the effects of changing the physical environment on physical activity levels in children. Ultimately the work will enable us to design more effective interventions to encourage physical activity in children.

Who will benefit from this research?

Beneficiaries of the research are likely to include the following:
- children and schools involved in the research, and from the general public.
- Academic researchers working in epidemiology, health psychology, exercise science
- Policy-makers
- Intervention designers
- Public service bodies (e.g. NHS, Social Services)
- Town, environmental planners, and local government
- Business and industry
- The research team

How will they benefit?

- Participants (pupils) are expected to benefit as we hypothesize an increase in their physical activity levels, which may lead to favourable changes to their physical and mental health. The schools will benefit from having a more aesthetically appealing environment that will encourage their pupils to be more active, leading to benefits in terms of academic performance and wellbeing.
- Academic researchers will gain knowledge about the effects of the physical environment on physical activity levels in children. This will help to inform future physical activity interventions.
- Policy-makers will develop better health policy and prevention strategies if they are provided with results from our study.
- The impact of changes to the physical environment are rarely evaluated in a robust way. These data are crucial to town and environmental planners to evaluate the cost effectiveness of such interventions.
- Economic assessments of the health benefits of physical activity will be possible. These data help to provide input into prospective health impact assessments.


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Aggio D (2016) Aggio et al. Respond to "Lessons for Research on Cognitive Aging". in American journal of epidemiology

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Aggio D (2015) Association of light exposure on physical activity and sedentary time in young people. in International journal of environmental research and public health

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Aggio D (2015) Effects of reallocating time in different activity intensities on health and fitness: a cross sectional study. in The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity

Description Major playground reconstruction reduced sedentary time and increased light intensity activity in younger children under 9 years of age.

These effects were largely observed over the school day, without negative compensation outside school.

No effect on the proportion of children meeting the current physical activity guideline of 60 min/d MVPA.

No effects in older primary school children (9 - 10 years)
Exploitation Route Inform strategies for increase physical activity in school children; inform public health recommendation
Sectors Education,Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

Description Camden borough council 
Organisation Camden Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Providing scientific input (evaluation and monitoring) to Camden Active Spaces project
Collaborator Contribution Contributing funds towards consumables; access to schools
Impact none as yet
Start Year 2014
Description Launch event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A range of people attended the launch event, including the local mayor, press, public health bodies, teachers and pupils. This sparked huge interest in the project and the new play grounds.

press coverage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URJ0Ns2gS8A
Description School assemblies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact we conducted assemblies with pupils at six different schools to explain the background to Camden Active Spaces and soem of the science behind it.

Pupils recruited into study
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014